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According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 75,000 accidents are caused by tire blowouts each year, and these accidents lead to about 400 deaths and many more serious injuries. It is estimated that tire blowouts lead to more than 5% of all serious motor vehicle accidents involving commercial trucks. While such accidents are often attributed to truck driver negligence, trucking accident lawyers advise that there are often multiple parties that share in the liability for the damages incurred.
A tire blowout occurs when there is a rapid and explosive loss of air pressure. Blowouts can happen to all types of inflatable tires but are particularly concerning with 18-wheelers that can weigh upward of 80,000 pounds and may be traveling at 55 to 70 miles per hour on a highway. When a blowout occurs, the driver is faced with a sudden loss of control and reduced braking power, and while this is true of smaller vehicles as well, it is an even more precarious situation when the vehicle is this large and heavy and has so much momentum behind it. When an impact does occur because of a commercial truck tire blowout, it often happens with little to no warning and at an extremely high speed.
The common causes of commercial truck tire blowouts include:
It is important to note that liability in any motor vehicle accident is not necessarily limited to a single party. While there are cases in which the operator of the vehicle is solely responsible, there are also situations when there can be multiple parties involved, including the truck driver and its employer. When there are multiple parties involved, no party is fully responsible but rather shares in the fault. This can include the victim seeking damages. New Jersey and many other states have a legal concept called comparative negligence. It means that parties can only be responsible for a portion of the liability based on their degree of fault, and a driver who is more than 50% at fault may not be able to obtain any damages at all.
The parties that may be at fault in tire blowout accidents include:
Commercial truck operators have a legal responsibility to inspect their vehicles before operating them. This requirement extends beyond the pre-trip inspection to any time that the truck driver stops the vehicle to fuel up or eat lunch. Some commercial vehicles are operated in tandem. In those cases, the responsibility falls to the co-driver as well, and both may be responsible to some degree. Be mindful that there must be some extent of negligence on the part of the driver. If drivers know that they are operating overloaded trailers, or it is reasonable that they should have noticed tire punctures or gashes, then they likely would be liable for blowouts and any ensuing accidents.
Although other drivers may not be directly responsible for a tire blowout, they can be held liable for triggering or exacerbating the event. Consider a scenario in which a driver in a passenger vehicle is texting while driving, inadvertently crosses the lane and hits the truck. If the tire was pre-punctured, and a blowout occurred, the driver who initiated the contact would likely be held liable. If the out-of-control truck then strikes another vehicle, then both the truck driver and the other driver who initiated the original contact could be responsible.
The trucking company for which the vehicle is being operated is held liable in many cases, but the specifics of the relationship between the company and driver matter. If the driver of the vehicle is an employee of the trucking company, then the company likely is liable. In these cases, the truck driver may not be legally liable at all. The scenario becomes more complex if the driver is an independent operator. It may be that the driver is responsible. However, there have been some rather high-profile cases in which the contracting company was held liable because the courts deemed that the company was using that type of relationship to protect it from such liability.
Many trucking companies in the United States are quite large and have their own fleet management departments, including a maintenance shop. In these cases, the trucking and maintenance company are one and the same. However, smaller companies and many independent contractors rely on maintenance companies. If that service provider completed a multipoint inspection, for instance, during which it should have noticed the potential tire failure, it can be held liable as well.
Similarly, the trucking, loading and shipping companies are often the same. Nevertheless, there are scenarios in which that is not the case, and in those situations, those other companies can be held liable. Examples include a loading company that mistakenly loaded a vehicle beyond the safe capacity or a shipping company that was not forthright with the trucking company about the specific cargo being shipped.
Although not common, a tire manufacturer can be held liable. Typically, the party seeking damages must be able to demonstrate negligence on the part of the manufacturer. Consider a case in which a tire manufacturer became aware that it had created a bad batch but did not proceed with a recall. It could be held liable, but if it had published a recall, then it probably could not.
There are scenarios in which a government entity can be held responsible, such as a hazardous road condition of which it was aware but had not yet fixed. Seeking such damages can be complex since you first must determine which level of government has jurisdiction. You must then be able to demonstrate that it was aware of the issue.
Many local governments contract with road maintenance companies rather than run their own maintenance departments. In those situations, the maintenance company may be a liable party if it was negligent, such as being aware of the road hazard but putting the repair off to a future date.
Truck drivers are invaluable to the American economy, and most are hardworking professionals who ensure that their tires are in optimal driving condition before operating their vehicles. Mistakes do happen and are not limited to the driver but also include the trucking company, manufacturer and other parties. If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident involving a commercial truck and a tire blowout, RAM LAW is here to help. Schedule a free initial consultation with a trucking accident lawyer by contacting us online or by calling our New Brunswick or Somerville office at (732) 394-1549.
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